Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Slippery Rock(Hot Cup Records)
Consider the smooth jazz “theme” a clever ruse, or at least no more essential to one’s enjoyment and/or understanding of these roiling performances than identifying which “classic” album is parodied on the goofball cover (the target seems little more than a font). Or as bassist/composer Moppa Elliott himself points out, knowing which Gerald Albright lick “inspired” the third track is about as useful as knowing where Sayre, PA is, since Elliott the wag arbitrarily names almost all his compositions after Pennsylvania townships. Still, don’t mistake these committed improvisers for court jesters - this is playful, not silly, as befits an outfit named after a Joseph Stalin attribution. Think Art Ensemble Of Chicago with little instruments swapped out for Kevin Shea’s big beats, or John Zorn pre-midlife crisis if such praise doesn’t sound too slight for the virtuoso likes of saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans. Stubbornly acoustic even while locking into sick funk beats, swaggering as freely through solos as they navigate tightly across themes, this is inside/out that for once makes no concession in either direction. If you’ve heard such claims made before only to confront the same old jazz insularity, just listen to the way “Hearts Content” starts things off with perfectly wedded bass/drum kick, shuffles in the horns for a disassembled “Sidewinder”-knockoff, only to close out in Dixieland double-time squalor before Evans peels off a good joke in the final milliseconds. Which is to say, this really does cook. Er, rock. Swing!
Harris Eisenstadt September Trio, The Destructive Element(Clean Feed)
Drummer/composer convenes his open improv sax/piano/drums trio in Portugal, with Ellery Eskelin and Angelica Sanchez filling empty spaces so expertly it might take a while to notice the missing bass player. Schoenberg gets name-checked twice, via a very loose and multi-structured nod to Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. Eisenstadt the former lit student also makes brief allusions to Joseph Conrad and Kurosawa, the latter number tersely cinematic as it builds builds builds. Elsewhere, Eskelin/Sanchez channel John/Alice Coltrane on the mournful “Additives,” slowly smolder across gorgeous ballad “Back And Forth,” and amble out the gate with a bluesy “Swimming, Then Rained Out”. And while the melodists do the heavy lifting, Eisenstadt the drummer coaxes both whispers and clatter from his kit. Plus, every number claims a theme or statement worthy of the trio’s chops, which brings us back to Eisenstadt the composer.
Kenny Barron, Kenny Barron & the Brazilian Knights(Sunnyside)
This Philly piano legend cut his first bossa nova tracks back in 1963, on brother Bill’s West Side Story Bossa Nova. Here he welcomes an all-Latin band for renditions of tunes by Brazilian legends Baden Powell (a lengthy “So Por Amor”), Tom Jobim (“Triste”), the unclassifiable Johnny Alf (“Ilusão à Toa” and more), and composer/performer Maurício Einhorn, who contributes four tracks and takes harmonica solos. Unfortunately, jazz harmonica remains a mode of creative expression for which I lack all sympathy. Also unfortunately, this is too breezy and tasteful by far - Idriss Boudrioua’s saxophone and Lula Galvão’s acoustic guitar flirt with latin lite. Piano sounds pretty good, though.
Booker T. Jones, Sound The Alarm(Concord / Stax)
Memphis legend returns to Stax! With twelve songs! Most of them with, uh oh, words!All twelve tracks boasting a Booker T. Jones composition credit! With co-writes by producers Bobby Ross and Issiah “IZ” Avila on eight of twelve songs! And guest vocals handled by such luminaries as Jay James and Ty Taylor! That’s Ty Taylor of Dakota Moon, of course! Just a little something to pad out the eventual solo box set with.
Dave Koz And Friends, Summer Horns (Concord)
Moppa Elliott’s egalitarian take on smooth jazz was so delightful it seemed uncivil not to at least give this twenty-five year smooth veteran and his “friends” (Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, Richard Elliot) a disinterested try. Seemed slickly inoffensive at first - Tom Scott and Herbie Mann unsurprisingly came out no worse for wear. Then, pow, Michael McDonald oozing gruffily onto Tower Of Power’s “So Very Hard To Go” set off three consecutive and supremely pointless cuts: Sly Stone’s “Hot Fun In The Summertime” drained of all ache and grit, Paul Desmond’s “Take 5” simultaneously dressed up and shat upon, and Chicago’s “25 Or 6 To 4” bedecked in Koz’s finest hotel lounge drapery. A little later, here comes “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “God Bless The Child”. Serves me right.